Today’s installment of my Premiers of the Province of British Columbia series – G.A.W.
||George Anthony Walkem
||November 15, 1834 in Newry, Ireland
||January 13, 1908 in Victoria, British Columbia
||February 11, 1874 – February 1, 1876
June 25, 1878 – June 13, 1882
- 1847: family emigrated to Canada from the UK
- went to McGill and studied law under John Rose
- 1858: called to the bar in Lower Canada
- 1861: called to the bar in Upper Canada
- 1862: moved to the then Colony of BC
- at first they wouldn’t call him to the bar in BC because Judge Matthew Begbie (who apparently was the one who did the calling) only liked lawyers trained in Britain; however, Walkem appealed to Governor James Douglas (who you may remember as our buddy Amor‘s enemy) and Jimmy D proclaimed the Legal Professions Act, permitting “colonial” lawyers to plead in court”4
- 1864-1870: member of the Legislative Council of the Colony (the members of which were appointed) for the Cariboo East and Quesnel Forks District
- like Amor, he pushed for the union of the Colonies of BC & Vancouver Island, and then for the united Colony to join Confederation
- 1871: with BC now a part of Canada, Walkem was elected to the provincial legislature for the Riding of the Cariboo and was the chief commissioner of lands and works in John Foster McCreight‘s government;
- he was appointed as the Attorney General in the cabinet of our buddy, Amor, despite having described Amor as having “all the eccentricities of a comet without any of its brilliance”4
- 1874: upon the resignation of Amor as Premier of BC, Walkem was asked by Lieutenant Governer Joseph William Trutch to be the next Premier
- because BC loves a scandal, Walkem faced one when he took over as Premier – specifically, the “Texada scandal,” which consisted of allegations members of Amor‘s government, including Walkem, were going to “profit from public development of newly discovered iron ore on Texada Island”4. A royal commission later declared there was “insufficient evidence to charge anyone with an attempt to prejudice the public interest.”4 Because BC loves a good quotation, Walkem had said, “I did not take silver for iron.”4
- back then, the railway was kind of a big deal, and Walkem put pressure, unsuccessfully, on Ottawa to build a railway all the way to the Pacific Ocean like it had promised to do. People in BC were ticked off that Walkem couldn’t make this happen, as well as having increased the debt by taking on public works projects, but his government was still re-elected in 1875, “albeit with a reduced majority”4. I’m not sure how someone without a party can have a majority, now that I think of it, but I guess things worked a bit differently back then?”1
- 1876: his government was kicked out by a vote of non-confidence over its financial troubles. I have no idea how a government with a MAJORITY gets kicked on a vote of non-confidence, but, again, he didn’t have a party so I have no idea how he had a majority in the first place1
- 1876-1878: served as the Leader of the Opposition against Andrew Charles Elliot’s government. Again, no idea how this works since Walkem wasn’t in any political party and neither was Elliot.1
- 1878: re-elected as Premier with a majority2 after Elliot’s government falls apart
- it appears that Walkem was quite the racist, particularly against people of Chinese and First Nations descent – he passed a statute denying Chinese and First Nations people the vote; he opposed “cheap Chinese labour” and banned Chinese workers from being hired for any provincial government contract; he even tried to implement a tax solely on Chinese people, but the BC Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional; he also took a “comparatively hard line on the size of Indian reserves”4 and “may have stalled settlement of the Indian land question to retaliate against the Mackenzie government for its position on the railway”4
- still pissed off about Ottawa reneging on that railway thing, he appealed directly to London and, since Britian was still the boss of Canada back then, Britian put pressure on Ottawa to build that damn railway
- April 1882: nearly lost another vote of non-confidence over, among other things, financial problems (this time over a dock being built on Vancouver Island – probably referred to as “Dock-gate”3 at the time)
- May 1882: appointed to BC Supreme Court, possibly because it was felt that it would be easily to solve the whole railway thing without Walkem in the way, possibly because John A. MacDonald was returning a favour (specificially, Walkem helping MacD a seat in the House of Commons for Victoria after he was defeated in Kingston in 1878)
- July 1882: the government, now headed by Robert Beaven, who replaced Walkem when he was appointed to the Supremer Court, lost the election
- Despite the fact that he, as Premier, put forth legislation requiring BC Supreme Court Judges to reside in their judicial districts , Walkem himself, now a BC Supreme Court Judge, refused to move from Victoria to live in his judicial district. Hello, hypocrite. Apparently, though, he turned out to be well liked as a judge. More so than he was as a Premier.
In summary, George Anthony Walkem, 3rd Premier of BC, somehow had some majority governments even though there were no political parties in BC at the time, but people were pissed at him because Ottawa didn’t build the railway to the Pacific like they promised, so sometimes they kicked him out. Also, he was a racist.
Image credits: From the National Archives of Canada, accessed from Wikipedia. In the public domain.
1Doing a little digging (i.e., clicking through links on Wikipedia, I have discovered that, although there was no recognition of provincial political parties until 1903, candidates would declare themselves as in support of the “Government” or as not in support of the government (“Non-Government” or “Independent”). Then sometimes they’d change their mind later and, since there were no actually parties, one could go from having a “majority” to being kicked out by a vote of non-confidence if enough people who had called themselves “Government” decided they didn’t like you and were now “Non-Government.”
2Even the Canadian Biography Online entry about Walkem concedes “although in a sense there is no such thing [as a majority] in a system without political parties,”4 right after saying he won a “comfortable majority,”4 so wtf?
- Wikipedia, the reference of choice for the lazy
- 4Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, the source from which the Wikipedia entry on G.A.W. appears to be plagiarized. As in direct quotations not being enclosed in quotation marks, nor referenced within the text.
Tonight’s installment of my British Columbia premieral series brings us BC Premier#2 – a guy who was fond of representative government, but people of Chinese and First Nations descent, not so much. Oh yeah, and he legally changed his name to “Lover of the Universe.” Seriously.
||Amor de Cosmos (born: William Alexander Smith)
||August 20, 1825 in Windsor, Nova Scotia
||July 4, 1897 in Victoria, BC
||Liberal Party of Canada (until 1882)
||December 23, 1872 – February 11, 1874
- spent 12 years as a grocery clerk, but then moved to California in 1853 to become a photographer during the California Gold Rush
- in 1854, he changed his name from Will Smith (boring!) to Amor De Cosmos (awesome!) – he chose this name “to pay tribute, as he said, “to what I love most…Love of order, beauty, the world, the universe.”1
- in 1858, he moved back to British North America (i.e., what would later become Canada), specifically to Victoria, which was in what was then known as the “Colony of Vancouver Island” (now just “Vancouver Island” which is part of British Columbia) and founded a newspaper then called the The Daily British Colonist, which would later become the Victoria-Times Colonist (are you still following all this?)
- he wasn’t too fond of the governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, Sir James Douglas, governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island who, along with his peeps, wasn’t a big fan of representative government; he figured that the church, church-run schools and a landed gentry should run the show; De Cosmos, in contrast, was big on public education, ending economic and political privileges, and responsible, elected government.
- De Cosmos supported the development of “the three Fs”: farming, forestry & fisheries – he described fisheries as “an exhaustless mine of wealth”2 and BC forests as “practically inexhaustible,”2; these industries, of course, were kind of a big deal for the economy for many, many years to come (although the “exhuastlessness” of our natural resources, well, not so much).
- he supported the union of the Colonies of British Columbia (BC) and Vancouver Island (occurred in 1866), and the entry of BC into Canadian Confederation (occurred on July 20, 1871 )
- political offices held:
- member of the Legislated Assembly of Vancouver Island (1863-1866, whcn VI joined BC)
- member of the Assembly of the United Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia (1867-1868, 1870-1871)
- elected to represent Victoria in both the provincial and Canadian government in 1871
- took over as Premier of BC after McCreight resigned due to a vote of non-confidence in 1872
- he is considered to be BC’s “Father of Confederation,” as he played a key role in getting BC to join Canadian Confederation
- as Premier, his government focussed on the issues with which he had always been concerned: ” political reform, economic expansion, and the development of public institutions — especially schools”1, as well as the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
- His tenure as Premier, though, was rather short and he spend much of it in Ottawa & London; “his government continued the policy begun by McCreight of implementing a system of free, non-sectarian public schooling, reduced the number of public officials, extended the property rights of married women, and adopted the secret ballot.”2
- he described First Nations people and people of Chinese descent as “inferior” (although he thought they could be used in the labour force) and he thought the federal government was too generous in its “concessions of land” to First Nations people, and that First Nations people “should be taught “to earn his living the same as a white man.””2
- he ended his tenure as Premier amid “accusations of impropriety”3 in 1874, but still managed to be re-elected to federal Parliament.
- he gained a reputation for being “eccentric” due to such things as as his fierce temper that often ended in fist (and walking stick4) fights, his phobia of electricity, the fact that he changed his name to “Lover of the Universe,” his egotism, his objection to the introduction of prayer in the House of Commons and his remaining a bachelor5); after retiring, his eccentricities intensified to the point that he was declared “of unsound mind” in 1895, and he died about a year and a half later
The Parliament Building Players, The Parliament Buildings, Victoria, BC, Summer 1998. Back: Francis Rattenbury, Nellie Cashman, Amor de Cosmos, Queen Victoria, James Douglas Front: Hamish McKinnon. All rights reserved.
In summary, this guy changed his name to “Lover of the Universe.” What’s up with that?
- Black & white image accessed from Wikipedia. In the public domain. w00t!
- Update 12 Sept 2008 – Image of the Parliament Players provided by JB (see comments). He owns the copyright. All rights reserved.
1Wikipedia, the reference of champions
2Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
3Starting a long history of BC Premiers leaving office under a dark cloud. They’ve made something of an art form of scandal, really.
4Picturing this guy getting into a fight in which he uses his walking stick as a weapon amuses me greatly.
5Seriously, being “unmarried” was mentioned in the context of him being an “eccentric.”
Now that I’ve made my way through all of the Canadian Prime Ministers, I feel a void. I actually got to quite like learning a bit about Canadian history every Sunday. So, I’m now taking on a more daunting task – I’m going to write a blog posting every Sunday about a British Columbia Premier1. It’s more daunting because I didn’t grow up in BC, so I’ve never heard of the vast majority of BC Premiers before. Plus, there’s been more BC Premiers than there has Canadian Prime Ministers, so this series will be longer. But I think I’m up for the challenge!
OK, first up is The Honourable John Foster McCreight – the first Premier of the Province of British Columbia.
||John Foster McCreight
||November 18, 1827 in Caledon, County Tyrone, Ireland
||November 18, 1913 (hmm.. he appears to have died on his birthday!)
||November 13, 1871 – December 23, 1872
- he was a lawyer, called to the bar in 1852
- Ireland –> Australia –> San Fran –> Victoria, BC
- when he moved to Victoria in 1860, it was part of the “Colony of Vancouver Island;” by 1866, the Colony of Vancouver Island and the Colony of British Columbia joined forces
- evidence is kind of sketchy on his martial situation – maybe he had a scandalous affair in Australia that caused him and his wife to leave there, or maybe he married someone from San Fran – they don’t seem to be sure. But the 1881 Census does list him as married to an Elizabeth Ann McCreight, although little seems to be known about the 411 on her.
- he was heavily involved in the Anglican church and the Masons – involvement which “seem[s] to have been motivated by a mixture of faith and ambition.”4
- after BC joined Canadian Confederation on July 20, 1871, he became the Attorney-General, then ran in the first election and won the seat for Victoria, and was then chosen as the first Premier of BC
- he was described by a colleague as, among other things, “utterly ignorant of politics;”4 not exactly a rousing endorsement for a politician
- best line in his biography: “he was firmly opposed to responsible government, believing his fellow British Columbians too immature to carry the burdens of democracy”4
- he lost a vote of nonconfidence in 1872, so he resigned
- he was appointed as a justice in the Supreme Court of BC, where he worked until 1897, and then he went back to the UK
In summary, on his trip around the world from the UK to Australia to North America and then back to the UK, he took a pit stop in Victoria to become our first provincial premier. The end.
Image credits: Accessed from Wikipedia. In the public domain. w00t!
1For my American readers, the “Premier” is the head of the government for a province or territory. Sort of like your state governors. And provinces and territories are like states. And Canada is that giant country just north of you.
2Of course, I grew up in Ontario and didn’t learn about the vast majority of Ontario premiers. But I digress.
3Wikipedia, the reference of champions
4Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online